Rebuffing Scholars, Germany Vows to Keep Hitler Out of Print

The New York Times/February 4, 2010

Munich - In Germany, an author is granted an ironclad copyright for 70 years after his death, apparently even if he is subsequently regarded as one of the greatest mass murderers in history and a dark stain on the national character.

Hitler’s copyright on "Mein Kampf," in the hands of the Bavarian government since the end of the Nazi regime, has long been used to keep his inflammatory manifesto off the shelves in Germany. But with the expiration date looming in 2015, there is a developing showdown here over the first German publication of the book since the end of World War II.

Experts at the respected Institute of Contemporary History in Munich say they want to prepare a critical, annotated version of the book for release when the copyright expires 70 years after Hitler’s suicide in his Berlin bunker.

"We hope to prevent neo-Nazi publications by putting out a commented, scholarly edition before that," said Edith Raim, a historian at the institute. "‘Mein Kampf’ is one of the central texts if you want to explain National Socialism, and it hasn’t been available in a commented edition at all in Germany."

But the Bavarian government opposed the idea, citing respect for victims of the Holocaust. In a statement Thursday, the Bavarian Finance Ministry said that permits for reprints would not be issued, at home or abroad. "This also applies to a new annotated edition," said the statement, adding that the state would use "all means at its disposal to proceed against any violations."

There was also disagreement as to whether the book might be banned as Nazi propaganda. The Bavarian government said that even after expiration of the copyright, "the dissemination of Nazi ideologies will remain prohibited in Germany and is punishable under the penal code."

But Ms. Raim said that diaries by prominent Nazis like Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler were already available.

Unofficial copies of "Mein Kampf" are easily accessible on the Internet already, and the book is legally published abroad, including in the United States.

Hitler wrote the book, which detailed his hatred of Jews, his desire for revenge against the French and the need for more space or "Lebensraum" in the east for Germans, while in Landsberg prison in Bavaria after the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The first volume of the book was published in 1925 and the second the next year.

More than 12 million copies of "Mein Kampf" were in circulation by 1945. The cities of Munich and Nuremberg, among others, gave it away to young couples as a wedding present, according to the Bavarian state library.

Stephan J. Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in Berlin, said the publication of "Mein Kampf" continued to split the Jewish community in Germany, with many Holocaust survivors opposing its publication. "I have the highest respect for this opinion, but on the other hand I’m saying very openly: The copyright is going to be waived anyway. It’s a matter of time before the book is available in shops and libraries," Mr. Kramer said.

Mr. Kramer said that with the book available on the Internet, it was important to have the work put in context by a responsible group like the Institute of Contemporary History. "Those who are already on the wrong side already have the book and already read it from their own point of view," he said. "Let’s get it out there, and let’s get it out there with a commentary."

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